It’s Not Random

Did you know that we have lots of teachers of singing who still believe that resonance and breath support are all you need to sing any kind of style? You did? Thank goodness!

Did you also know that most singing teachers do not know what vocal exercises do? Did you know that most singing teachers and singers do not know what kind of vocal exercises are simple and what kind are difficult for every single human being? Did you know that these same people don’t know that using exercises with an understanding of how they work and what effects they produce, both plus and minus, could save quarts of time and gallons of frustration? Yup.

If you are an “average” person…not overweight, not recovering from surgery or illness, not taking medication for a condition, but not doing anything in particular to be in good shape….and I asked you to lift a one pound weight 10 times, you could probably do that. If, however, you were an elderly person who had suffered a stroke and was in a wheelchair, that might make you tired, or you might not be able to do it at all, and, of course, if you were an Olympic athelete, you could lift the one pound weight 10 times without any effort at all. Every time I change the components of the task, it would have a different effect upon the person doing it, and I would have to access who the person was and what they were capable of before I knew whether or not the exercises I asked for would be appropriate. So, a 10 pound weight lifted once is different than lifting it 25 times, and a 25 pound weight lifted 5 pounds is yet again different.

Most singers have been asked to do this or that scale, triad or arpeggio in a lesson, and used this or that vowel on some musical pattern. All of us have been asked to “place the tone” somewhere, while doing some kind of “breath support”. But how many of us have ever been able to ask for and and then get a simple, reasonable answer to “What’s this exercise supposed to be doing for me and for my voice? Is there any negative result to it? When would it be counter-indicated? Can I do it too much? How do I know if I am doing it correctly? ”

Think how incredible it would be if all singers and teachers of singing had to learn what the exercises did and how to apply them uniquely to each person, in each lesson! Imagine what kind of singers we would produce and how much shorter, simpler and more satisfying the process of singing would be if we knew how to do all kinds of vocal exercises effectively!

Ever wonder why no one has figured out how vocal exercises work period? I did and do. It was something I had to know, and I delved to understand through every means possible.

If you ask me to sing a long, slow, high, loud phrase, I will have trouble, especially if I haven’t been practicing regularly and over a long period of time. If you ask me to sing fast, high, short phrases, I will have little trouble, even if I have not sung for quite some time. Is that true for everyone? Of course not. Which of these things is it that makes one set of parameters hard and the others easy. Which of these vocal behaviours would be difficult for most people? Said another way, what would be easy for the “average” person with “average” ability and “average” singing experience in terms of difficulty versus someone of “exceptional ” ability and “lengthy” experience?

An average person, as above, will find high notes difficult, breathing coordination tricky, vowel sound clarity vague, and vocal control unpredictable, no matter what way I teach those things. An exceptional person might find all these things easy to do. However, as I increase the number of vocal activities that have to be coordinated and controlled, and extend the amount of time that the control and coordination must last, then put the exercises at the extreme high or low end of the person’s pitch range, and ask for a great deal of volume continuously while singing, even the exceptional person will have trouble. Seems reasonable, no?

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One thought on “It’s Not Random”

  1. Jeannette,
    So great to find your blog! I have recently started one myself called “Being Vocal” and I couldn’t agree with you more in this latest posting. I have found that a good “mantra” for most of my students is “slow, low, soft” for the beginning of any learning process in singing. Then again, as we both know, everyone is an individual. I so look forward to being a regular reader of your blog. I have always learned a great deal from you. Joan Barber

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